GUWAHATI, March 11 - The Kolkata-based Eastern Zone (EZ) Bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT), while imposing litigation cost, has directed the State Government to pay an amount of Rs 50,000 to environment-cum-RTI activist Rohit Choudhury. The amount is to be paid to Choudhury by an account payee cheque within eight weeks starting March 7, 2016, said the NGT Bench.
This directive of the NGT Bench came in connection with the case (Original Application No. 25/2014/EZ; Rohit Choudhury versus Union of India and others ) that was related with the �Training of Beki river on L/B and activation of river Manas and Hakua at Mathanguri� within the Manas National Park, a UNESCO Natural Heritage Site.
The NGT Bench observed that the Assam Government has not followed the statutory provision laid down under Section 2 of the Forest (Conservation) (FC) Act, 1980 and the provision of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
�� obtaining prior approval from the Union Government under FC Act and Wildlife Protection Act 1972 is a mandatory requirement and the Government of Assam has violated the environmental norms by undertaking the project (training of Beki river) in the absence of prior approval. This is definitely a bad practice, and if the Government departments disregard laws framed by the Parliament, then it may become difficult to check violation by private parties.
Although we were considering to impose penalty for such violation by the Government of Assam, it appears prima facie that the project is intended for a good cause for which we have restrained ourselves from imposing penalty,� said the NGT Bench.
Petitioner Rohit Choudhury while pleading for the intervention of the NGT in stopping implementation of the project, argued that the project would harm the biodiversity of the Manas National Park, which is an important bird area and which harbours the greatest number of India�s scheduled mammals of any protected area in the country.
The National Park also provides habitat for 22 of India�s more threatened species of animals like elephant, tiger, one-horned rhino, clouded leopard, sloth bear etc., and some endemic species like the pigmy hog, hispid hare and golden langur. Its wetlands provide habitat for about 310 bird species, including the endangered Bengal florican, Choudhury said.
In its affidavit in opposition, the Assam Government argued that the Beki river has to take the entire load of water during the monsoon season due to collection of debris at the mouth of Manas and Hakua rivers. This is resulting in drying up of many water holes without being replenished for the winter season along the stretch of Manas and Hakua rivers in the National Park, contrary to the fact that the Beki witnesses unprecedented floods during the rainy season. All these have posed threat to wildlife as well as human beings, necessitating the project, the Assam Government said in its bid to justify the river training project.
�The judgement reflects the fact that even tiger reserves and world heritage sites are not free from illegalities. It is a serious issue if the State agencies themselves violate the law and show ignorance of Supreme Court orders. The least the Government should do is to initiate departmental inquiry and proceedings against the officers who were party to this illegality�, said Ritwick Dutta, who represented Rohit Choudhury in the case.